#NoFilter: "Real" Authenticity and Social Media

Trends / Technology
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Feb 1, 2022
To no one’s surprise, Frances Haugen’s 2021 whistleblowing testimony against her former employer, Facebook1, drew international attention and exposed that internal studies revealed the negative impact of Instagram on children, while the company did little to combat it.

 Facebook has since released a rebuttal on the implications of their data, but it appears that the damage has already been done. Insights from Facebook’s own research suggests that the focus of Instagram on people’s bodies and lifestyles make females feel unattractive and cite Instagram (unprompted and by name) as a reason for anxiety and depressive symptoms2. This is not exclusive to children, but adults as well – especially as we grapple with being in and out of lockdown, with our phones and electronics being our only window to the greater world3.

I compare our relationship with social media with mine with sugar. Yes, my blood sugar is a little high, but that didn’t stop me from gorging myself on Christmas cookies over the holiday. Just like I can’t NOT log‑into Instagram to see what Jeff Goldblum is up to on a regular basis. Or see how my family back in Asia is doing. The latter is only marginally more important than the former.
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
We’ve heard stories about some influencers who buy likes or followers4, but some even go a step further and even fake locations with geotagging, be it high ends hotels, or even trips via private plane sets5.

While social media can be a guilty pleasure or a means of escapism when isolated in our homes, we may often forget that social media can act as a funhouse mirror to the world, seeing only what those posting want us to see. We sometimes forget about filters, editing, and even photo manipulation software that allows you to change the shape of your face, body, or change your hair color.

Psychiatrists have found that social media can damage body image by exposing us to images that idealize specific body types. This causes us to create unrealistic expectations for ourselves, which in turns leads to added distress when we can’t attain them. We have photo editing to partially thank for this. Photo manipulation creates a misleading image of what is real, which is part of why we create these impossible ideals. It’s crucial for both teens and adults to remember this when we scroll through our feeds. In fact, it’s been found that over 2 out of 3 people edit their photos before posting them.6
Real people deserve real representation
Getty Images’ own VisualGPS7 research has revealed that at least 1 in 5 people have experienced discrimination based on their body size, shape, or type. While body discrimination overall has gone down in the last year, it has unfortunately risen in Gen Zers, millennials, and people who do not identify as white. People of color are more prone to body bias, which is the second most common reason they experience discrimination, after facing bias based on race.

 We know the commonly cited statistic, but we still find that it bears repeating because of the crucial gap in sizing: the average American woman is a size 16, which for some reason is labelled as an extra‑large – yet the average fashion model is a small (6‑8).8 This is not exclusive to women. Male fitness, fashion, and lifestyle influencers give men the same responses that women feel when looking at these visuals.9 Meanwhile, the average male model has a waist that measures 29‑32 inches and yet the average waist for American men is 40 inches.

 Despite the sizes of average Americans, our research finds that less than 1% of top visuals include people with larger frames – and only women are represented as being larger‑bodied, there is no male representation. The vast majority of the imagery featuring plus‑sized people have them exercising or eating healthy, as if there are no other priorities other than to slim down to fit what is constantly popping up on newsfeeds.

 Our Visual GPS research suggests that the top reason someone faces body bias is for being perceived as too heavy. By consistently focusing on and aspiring to an ideal image, we exclude the majority, which can alienate them. This is importantly poignant for brands of all segments, as we’ve found that over 2 out of 3 people believe that it’s important that companies they buy from celebrate diversity of all kinds. Companies should take note of this as influencer partnerships have become a staple in social media marketing.

Celebrating every body on social media
Outside of the aesthetics, memes, and celebrity accounts, body positive activists push for more accurate and authentic representation of untouched, more commonly seen body types. Some even use their platform as a reminder that we shouldn’t take what we see to heart. Former model and journalist Danae Mercer dedicates much of her Instagram account to revealing the secrets that influencers use to make themselves appear more slender.10

Social media isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a means to connect, stay in touch, and share. Sometimes we just need to take a closer look at what we see to not only take care of ourselves, but to celebrate everybody in every body as well. Body diversity is an important aspect of authenticity in visuals seen online, aside from aesthetics and "Instagrammable" or foods. By understanding what is truly authentic can we better advocate for proper representation of everyone.
[1] Here are 4 key points from the Facebook whistleblower’s testimony on Capitol Hill [NPR]
[2] “Instagram internal research: ‘we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls’” [The Verge]
[3] Social media used linked to depression in adults [NBC News]
[4] How Instagram influencers can fake their way to online fame [CNBC]
[5] “Influencers caught out posing in fake private jets for travel photos” [Honey]
[6] Why social media can make you feel bad about yourself… [Insider]
[7] Visual GPS [Getty Images]
[8] National Center for Health Statistics; International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education
[9] Instagram Influencers Making Guys More Body‑Conscious [Health Day]
[10] How influencers take ‘relaxing’ pics [Danae Mercer]
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